What is sound?

Sound, as we understand it in the context of sound scenography, is what we experience through our ears; everything we can hear when being present in a given space.

In a museum exhibition, for example, every single sound potentially shapes our experience in and of the space. While the sound of a person talking in a video might be presenting interesting information, an ambient soundscape might help us to mentally focus on that information by providing meaningful context to it.

The same goes for music which provides additional associations and thought-links to the topic. But the music from the café in the adjacent lobby and the explanations of a tour guide next to us might distract us with competing information.

And while the long reverb of the architectural room acoustics might not be relevant to the exhibited content at all, the reverb nonetheless makes us aware of the building.

The hum of a video projector makes us aware of the technical apparatus behind the actual content presented by it. And while the footsteps and conversations of other visitors give us the comforting feeling we’re not alone, the beeps and the shatter of radios signalize that we are being watched by the patrolling museum staff.

Even the sounds that are intentionally excluded from an exhibition are creating the space. How? Even the (admittedly rare) complete absence of sound shapes our interpretation of a space.

Every single element mentioned above can change the way how we experience and interpret the presented content in the exhibition, can change our focus of awareness, the extent of being immersed in the topic, or distracted from it. This complex interplay of all the different sounds, interwoven in time and space, is not so different to what is self-evident in music: it is the selection of sounds, their positioning in time, the rhythm, and the mix that makes a composition.

Sound scenography is about composing space. And since sound is what we use to make a place out of space as visitors, we need to cultivate a holistic understanding of sound in staged spaces from the perspective of the visitor.